Betty Doyle, manager of Co Wexford Women’s Refuge, said: “We have had so many requests since last week from people who are working and who have families, seeking support in relation to toys for Christmas.”
She said she has never seen a situation like this before, adding that these are parents who are holding down good jobs, but who have become financially stretched either through high mortgages or marital breakdown.
Describing them as the “new poor”, Ms Doyle said they often break down crying on the phone with the stress of having to spend so much on Christmas, be it for toys or food and other essentials.
“These are people who have a huge sense of shame about asking for help at this stage of their lives, having worked so hard,” said Ms Doyle. “They have reached the bottom. We have people who are at the top of the socio-economic scale right down to the bottom [seeking help]. These are people who are absolutely embarrassed to come forward and it’s just as a last resort.
“They are middle-class families who previously would have enjoyed a high quality of life but now there’s either been a break up of a marriage or one of them has lost their job.”
Ms Doyle said many parents are hoping for a miracle to save their families’ Christmas and put off buying toys to the last minute.
“People are very distressed when they ring,” she said. “They will hang on until the last minute when desperation sets in. We are expecting a lot of calls over the coming weeks.
“These people are living in hope that something will turn up at the last minute, and some people do keep their heads in the sand and hope it will all go away, but Christmas doesn’t go away.
“It’s a huge pressure on families and it takes away from the spirit of Christmas.”
She said the refuge, along with South East Radio, has launched a campaign focussing on collecting new gifts for children in need in the county. The 2FM toy appeal in conjunction with SuperValu is continuing also.